New York Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, the late Bobb McKittrick and recently retired Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell have been selected as the 2023 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award winners by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Martindale, McKittrick and Mitchell are the 21st, 22nd and 23rd recipients of the Dr. Z Award, which was instituted by the PFWA in 2014.
The Dr. Z Award is given for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL. The award is named for Zimmerman, who covered the NFL for 29 years as Sports Illustrated’s lead pro football writer. His impact on the writing and football industries was profound. Zimmerman is widely considered one of the best football writers of all time, and his 1970 “A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” and revised 1984 “The New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” are textbooks to this day for young football writers trying to learn the game and trying to learn to write about the game. He started to cover the NFL in 1966, and he started at Sports Illustrated in 1979. Zimmerman stayed at SI until his writing career was cut short by a series of strokes in November 2008. He served as PFWA president during the 1982 season.
Other 2023 finalists for the Dr. Z Award were the late defensive coordinator Thomas Catlin and the late defensive coordinator Floyd Peters.
Martindale, the Giants defensive coordinator, is known for his wit and his creative blitz schemes out of a variety of fronts, and his best defenses have also defended the run with discipline. He has a resume that shows a gritty climb that included a year as a truck driver for a company his uncle owned before collegiate coaching stints at Defiance College, Cincinnati, Western Kentucky, Western Illinois as well as three Ohio high schools before he broke into the NFL in 2004 as a linebackers coach with the Oakland Raiders. Martindale spent 10 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, including four as the defensive coordinator. His defenses were among the league’s top three in scoring in three of those four years as the Ravens’ coordinator, including No. 1 in his first season with the team. Martindale was on the staff for the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII win. Current Jets, and former Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, who earned a Pro Bowl trip as a Baltimore rookie with Martindale, called Martindale “just a real guy, a real coach.”
McKittrick, who developed athletic, undersized offensive lines over 21 years and five Super Bowl titles with San Francisco, spent 28 years as a NFL offensive line coach. His 49ers lines protected quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young during 21 seasons (1979-99) with San Francisco. Sports Illustrated wrote McKittrick “may be the most successful position coach of his era” since “few coaches have done so much with so little.” McKittrick was an assistant for the Los Angeles Rams (1971-72) and San Diego (1974-78) before joining the 49ers in 1979. He coached in five Super Bowls (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, XXIX) with the 49ers, winning all five, and was one of only four 49ers coaches who were part of all five title teams.
Mitchell, who broke the color barrier as a player at Alabama and was the first African American defensive coordinator in the SEC, spent five decades as a college (including three years as an assistant for Paul “Bear” Bryant) or NFL coach. A total of 29 of those years were with the Pittsburgh Steelers until Mitchell retired in February. His tenure with the Steelers included three Super Bowl trips and two Super Bowl wins. In his time with the Steelers five defensive linemen were named to at least one Pro Bowl – Casey Hampton, Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith and Joel Steed. When Mitchell retired, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said: “I’m not sure that I can offer sufficient praise and admiration for Mitch — as both a man and football coach. Mitch has been a central figure in the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers for nearly three decades. He has coached some of the best players in this franchise’s illustrious history, and each one of them, to a man, would tell you their success was a direct result of not only Mitch’s coaching acumen, but also his mentorship, leadership and character.”
ABOUT THE PFWA: In its 60th season in 2023, the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams daily. Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News is the PFWA president for the 2023-24 seasons and the organization’s 31st president. Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post is the PFWA’s first vice-president, Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic is the second vice-president, Lindsay Jones of The Ringer is the advisor to the president and Mike Sando of The Athletic is the secretary-treasurer. At-large board members include Mike Jones of The Athletic, ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, Joe Reedy of the Associated Press and ProFootballTalk.com’s Charean Williams. Follow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.
PAUL “DR. Z” ZIMMERMAN AWARD WINNERS (For lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL): 2014 – Jim Johnson, Howard Mudd, Fritz Shurmur and Ernie Zampese; 2015 – Dick LeBeau, Tom Moore and Dante Scarnecchia; 2016 – Monte Kiffin and Wade Phillips; 2017 – Bud Carson; 2018 – Joe Bugel and Emmitt Thomas; 2019 – Gunther Cunningham and Mike Westhoff; 2020 – Bill Arnsparger and Romeo Crennel; 2021 – Rod Marinelli and Bobby Turner; 2022 – Leslie Frazier and Greg Knapp; 2023 – Don “Wink” Martindale, Bobb McKittrick and John Mitchell